Ocean surface waves are the dominant temporally and spatially variable process influencing sea floor sediment resuspension along most continental shelves. Wave-induced sediment mobility on the continental shelf and upper continental slope off central California for different phases of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events was modeled using monthly statistics derived from more than 14 years of concurrent hourly oceanographic and meteorologic data as boundary input for the Delft SWAN wave model, gridded sea floor grain-size data from the usSEABED database, and regional bathymetry. Differences as small as 0.5 m in wave height, 1 s in wave period, and 10° in wave direction, in conjunction with the spatially heterogeneous unconsolidated sea-floor sedimentary cover, result in significant changes in the predicted mobility of continental shelf surficial sediment in the study area. El Niño events result in more frequent mobilization on the inner shelf in the summer and winter than during La Niña events and on the outer shelf and upper slope in the winter months, while La Niña events result in more frequent mobilization on the mid-shelf during spring and summer months than during El Niño events. The timing and patterns of seabed mobility are addressed in context of geologic and biologic processes. By understanding the spatial and temporal variability in the disturbance of the sea floor, scientists can better interpret sedimentary patterns and ecosystem structure, while providing managers and planners an understanding of natural impacts when considering the permitting of offshore activities that disturb the sea floor such as trawling, dredging, and the emplacement of sea-floor engineering structures.
Additional publication details
The influence of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles on wave-driven sea-floor sediment mobility along the central California continental margin